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Book Corner July 12, 2004

The Last Summer of Reason
By  
Tahar Djaout
Foreword by Nobel Prize-winner Wole Soyinka.

Publisher:  Ruminator Books, 2003
(First published as Le Dernier ete de la raison, 1999)
Reviewed by Dr. Susan K. Hedahl

            This book is small in size, stunning in impact. Its author, Algerian dissident writer Tahar Djaout, was assassinated by an Islamic fundamentalist group in 1993 for his political ideals.

The foreword alone is worth the price of the book. Wole Soyinka, Nigerian writer, outlines the forms fundamentalism can take in human society - anywhere. He asks: "But is it all about ideology or religion? Or has it to do just as much with power and domination? Conformism is an elementary conditioning of society that is essential for the exercise of power...." (x) "Or the mindset of fundamentalism, which does not say, "I am right, you are wrong," but whose ultimate goal of unreason is "I am right; you are dead!" (x)

This is the briefly told story - perhaps even allegorical journey - of a bookseller, Boualem Yekker, set in a contemporary, unnamed society, which is sliding into the violence and chaos of fundamentalism. He experiences the loss of his wife, children and finally his vocation of loving and selling books. The book's terrifying atmosphere is created by the intense paranoia Yekker develops in his psychological and physical efforts to escape what is happening.

Yekker realizes the very freedom that his books represent is also a savagely abused one in terms of the sacred texts that the fundamentalists attempt to use wrongly: He recalls the insistence on conforming to "The Text" in his childhood classroom and his resistance to the version of the Truth, which is pounded into him. This flashback to his instruction in sacred scripture, in a chapter called "The Binding Text" is not to be missed.

In a brief chapter ironically titled "Sermon I" at the beginning of the book, this chilling admonition, an echo of all the anarchical, fundamentalistic voices bids the reader/listener: "Tighten your ranks, people whom grace has visited, so that no depraved person can slip in between you and be the bearer of the seed of destructive questioning once more." (7)

Whether the first window shattered on Kristalnach in 1939; whether the eerie video clip at the Holocaust Museum in Washington showing a laughing crowd with Hitler as their new leader;
whether Abu Ghraib and its unanswered questions; whether Guantanomo and its hidden, unrepresented prisons, whether the Patriot Act affecting us all; whether the cultures of conformism and moralism around us --read this book and remember.